Built more like Abdul Razzaq than Shoaib Akhtar, Hasan Ali bristles in to bowl the 17th over, with a soothing breeze of an action. To use him late, that’s in the middle overs where spinners are the norm for subcontinental sides, is a well-devised strategy. While he doesn’t strut around with the fieriness of the archetypal Pakistan strike bowler, he isn’t like Razzaq or Azhar Mahmood either. The three-wicket haul against England — his vital third three-for in a row — was yet another vindication of his match-defining aptitude. Not to list his knack of picking big fishes: his scalps this series include, among others, Yuvraj, Duminy, du Plessis, Morgan, Stokes and Mendis. The Indian Express analyses the enigma.
The most menacing aspect about Ali is not just his wicket-taking ability, but the various methods at his disposal to take those wickets. Against Sri Lanka, he predominantly seamed the ball into the right hander, before he would slip in the one that held the line. He thus duped Kusal Mendis. Against South Africa’s left-handers, he would slant it in from wide off the crease, before he would coerce a couple of them to shape ever so slightly away from them. JP Duminy and Wayne Parnell were dismissed thus. Against England, it was basically about toying with the batsmen’s psyche.
With the third ball of his first spell, he induced a miscued pull off Jonny Bairstow, the sort of dismissal where a batsman’s indiscretion is blamed than the bowler’s craft. It wasn’t entirely the case. The whole world knows Bairstow is a compulsive puller and would latch on to anything remotely short. When he is looking to accelerate, he is even more vulnerable to the short ball. So Ali banged in one short, but with more pace and bounce than the Englishman had anticipated on a sluggish wicket. Ali doesn’t look capriciously fast — he is in the 135-143kph bracket, which isn’t supersonic these days — but is inconveniently brisk. Bairstow paid the price for underestimating his pace; as had Faf du Plessis in the South Africa game. Critical to both these dismissals, besides pace and bounce, was his line—just outside the off-stump and angling into him. The 22-year-old has been positively obstinate with his lines — as many as 33 were fired in the corridor.
Against South Africa, it was an even more staggering 42. Of just 48 balls. Like against Sri Lanka and South Africa, Ali’s knack of striking early in his spell continued. He accounted for Eoin Morgan with the fourth ball of his second spell. In the first spell, he had probed and throttled him with an assortment of good-length and short-of-good length deliveries angling into him. Maybe, that pried on the England captain’s mind. Hence, the attempted jailbreak shot. So Morgan shimmied down, Ali pulled his length back and pushed it a little wide. So, even if he had the room, the length made it nearly impossible for him to scythe him down the ground, the shot he was attempting. In fact, the unpredictability of his lengths, and the entailing dilemma, have vexed several other batsmen. Like JP Duminy, who ventured for a drive, only to belatedly realise that it wasn’t quite drivable.
But the wicket most illustrative of his guile — he is not a conjurer of magic balls but isn’t a prosaic plodder either — was that of Ben Stokes, who he had repeatedly harassed in his first spell.
The tall all-rounder’s torture ended rather softly. Ali’s method only demonstrated the nuanced grasp of his craft. He attempted a fast yorker on the leg-stump, but wasn’t quite yorker length. He knew Stokes was expecting another one. He played to the script, only that the follow-up yorker was so slow that Stokes ended up spooning a catch to extra cover. Such practical nous you seldom spot in a 23-year-old.